Written and directed by Evan Kidd, local rapper Kamus Leonardo’s (Damien Elliott Bynum) world is upended upon the sudden death of his girlfriend Destiny, to make matters worse he’s hanging out with a panda bear. Also starring: Melissa Cowan Rattray, Kimberly Avery, Jeremias Hadley, Eric Hartley, Brigitte Moneybound Kelly and Mary Miles Kokotek.
It’s hard not to connect an imaginary friend dressed as a panda to the James Stewart classic Harvey, and there are similarities in the way that the panda pushes Kamus to keep moving and reminds him of his manners from time to time but this is a very different type of story. What Kidd has put together is a modern, relatable example of dealing with grief today, how we create distractions for ourselves, fall into junk food and struggle to find any form of motivation. It’s a difficult theme to tackle but the way that this story is told does make clear that it comes from a kind-hearted place, with a goal to remind people they are not alone and to appreciate the support of friends and family.
It does feel however that the story struggles to bring through the deeper emotions tied to its story, it hits upon the depression and isolation but there’s something missing to push it where it needs to go. One of the aspects that hinders those emotions is the film’s hesitancy to show the reason for his grief, it would have helped the story connect more deeply to show pieces of the relationship Kamus had with Destiny (Rattray), especially earlier on. While the motive for the story works, it just needed a little more context to hit harder and push that sympathy button more strongly. It’s likely that this is a factor in how the film has difficulty building atmosphere, having its lead be so introverted due to his grief, means there’s a lot of reliance on the writing and direction to say what he isn’t and that’s not entirely there. Although it moves quite slowly it does continually add to its story, it follows a tale of random encounters that push Kamus to look inward and while some work better than others, his interaction with a farmer (Hartley) is surprisingly sweet.
The chemistry that Bynum and Hartley build is interestingly intimate for a conversation between two people who have just met, it touches upon the idea that it’s sometimes easier to discuss your problems with a stranger, than your own friends or family. The charisma and personality that Bynum brings to the farmer is then used to bring Kamus out of his shell and in turn brings a stronger energy to the film that it didn’t have previously. Bynum’s performance is consistent throughout but those moments where he more openly deals with his emotions bring it home.
Kidd’s directorial style fits well with the more personal nature of the film and its singular focus on Kamus. With perhaps the exception of the panda, the style is earnest and reflects its lead character being a man of simple pleasures and having a strong connection to his family. His musical background is used throughout but it would have been great to see it more tightly infused with the style of the film, bringing through the rhythm you get to see from Kamus in brief moments into the film’s overall atmosphere. It could use a slight push to its energy and a more permeating use of music feels like it could have been what it needed.
Panda Bear It is a relatable story of modern grief and the struggle to re-discover yourself after a traumatic experience, as well as learning to accept help from others. Damien Elliott Bynum strongly brings through the struggle to move forward and motivate yourself in a time of distress and depression. It’s missing a deeper emotion and stronger energy but it’s a challenging topic to take on and Kidd did well to add a more down to earth tone, especially given that it’s only his second feature and he was also the cinematographer, editor, producer and acted in the film.